I had watched a documentary movie called ‘UnBranded’, about a group of young men that train wild horses and together they ride from the border of Mexico to Canada. 16 wild horses, 4 young men and 3,000 miles.
Their story begins as they choose mustangs from the Bureu of Land Management (BLM), that had never felt the touch of a human hand before. They have never known the tragedy of neglect or abuse, they only knew the wild, as free as one could ever be.
Then the selected horses were taken by a mustang expert and together they trained these wild horses for 30 days. They showed them working with these highly unpredictable animals. As they filmed the placing of a halter on one horse. The trainer slowly put that halter on, careful to keep his distance, just in case the horse went into sudden flight mode. As one of the cowboy’s placed a saddle on his horses’ back, the horse backed up and slightly snorted at this item that was soon to be placed on his back. As they worked the horses in a small round pen, keeping guard and alert to what was going on with each step that horse took, for the horse could turn at any given moment and attack the trainer/cowboy.
I couldn’t help but notice some similarities between what they were doing and some of the same cautions and lessons I had been thru with Sadie (my mule). The fear that you see in their eyes, the uncertainty of the next movement they will make and the months it takes to see a small step of progress forward.
It was a timeline of progression, documenting each milestone as they trained the wild horses, preparing to take them thru the most rugged and untamed country of the United States. As the training progressed you could see the relationships and bonds that were developed between the cowboys and their horses. The personalities of the horses emerged, and this once wild horse who only feared and hated the thought of a human, now was enjoying the warmth and love from a person’s hands, that had offered them something beyond the wild. It was a beautiful and amazing transformation that took place. The cowboys became emotionally attached to the horses they had spent months training. A partnership where leadership was offered to the wild spirit of an animal, that once only knew leadership from its own kind.
I couldn’t help but think of Sadie Lou (my mule), even though Sadie had not come from the wild. She had known a life with people, but probably had never really experienced a connection to a person. Before her life at the rescue, I imagine that the home she came from she was asked to work long days. As history of the equines we obtain, it is quite common that there is little known of their past.
It was said that Sadie came from an Amish family, pulling a cart, and was ill treated. In the horse world, it is not uncommon to hear the stories of how the Amish mistreat their horses and mules. They are considered a work animal, only there to assist them in their duties and providing for their lifestyles’ and living.
There is no bonding, no love, no connection. I imagine Sadie came from a place where she was horribly mistreated. She was to work and work hard, and even though she probably performed, she was abused. Any trust had been broken, any partnership had been betrayed, any possibility of love had been depleted and replaced by a hand of abuse. With enough of that, they start to shut down, they begin to fear any hand, any partnership and resolve to what they know from all that is left, their instinct. With that instinct they do what they know best, to flee or fight when fear enters their world.
What I found interesting as I continued to recall this fascinating film, was some of similarities with Sadie and the relationship I continued to build with her, was much like those wild horses. But I also took notice that even though they shared some commonalties, there was one difference.
The wild horses feared and fought the introductions to captivity and the people they encountered, not because they had ever felt the hand of abuse across their body, but because they are wild. They instinctively feared man.
Sadie’s fear and flight response’s were due to what she once knew about how people can be. She probably has felt the hand of abuse upon her body more times then she cares to feel. She feared remembering what had happened to her. The wild horses feared what they instinctively knew. They feared by instinct, Sadie fears were derived from experience. Both resulting in similar reactions.
But with the wild horses, they learned to trust, and their bonds and personalities shined a spotlight on what we wouldn’t expect. Domestication from love and leadership was born.
However, if one offers their trust and break it time and time again, there will be a lot slower road to recovery back to trust again. So very much alike, yet so very different.
With that I could really relate to how Sadie felt. How a blow from a hand, asking for her to work again and again, and possibly abusing and neglecting her time and time again, would only result in never really being able to trust a human. I could deeply sympathize with her and what I imagined her story to once be.
I could see how easily that could be a story of my own. Too many harsh words, from too many people. Too many blows across the face, too much betrayal, too often without love, too often tears from relationships that hurt time and time again. To the point, where, like a wild horse, or like a horse that may had taken enough, would just turn and fight or flee! Push and poke long enough and an animal that used to be open will shut down, an animal that used to cower could turn and fight. Take them to that limit, and you never know what to expect, and you never know where that limit will be. Understand that it is not that much different with people.
As they say, horses or mules are the windows to our souls…
By Diana Wanamaker
October 5, 2015
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